The Twenty-First in a Series of Sermons on the Epistle to the Hebrews
Throughout Hebrews 11, the author uses the phrase “by faith” in reference to the particular individuals singled out for mention in this well-known chapter of the Bible. Those mentioned here–who are found throughout the whole of the Old Testament, prior to the dawn of the messianic age–believed that God would keep his covenant promise. But for everyone on the list, the fulfillment of that promise was still far off in the distant future. As the author of Hebrews has been pointing out, it was not until the coming of Jesus Christ that the exact nature of God’s covenant promise and the wonderful benefits our Lord secures for us become clear. That for which these Old Testament saints longed, is for us, a glorious and present reality. What God had promised to the Old Testament saints, is now fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Last time we took up the closing verses of Hebrews 11, the so-called “hall of faith.” As we have seen throughout our time in this chapter, the author of Hebrews is making the point that there has always been one covenant promise–“I will be your God and you will be my people”–and that this same covenant promise unfolds throughout the pages of the Old Testament. In Hebrews 11, the author appeals to a litany of well-known people who believed this promise. Although the people mentioned here serve as an example to us of sorts, the author’s primary purpose in this chapter is not to present these Old Testament saints as examples for us to emulate. Rather, his purpose is to remind his Jewish readers that the same promise which these Old Testament saints believed, pointed ahead to the coming of Jesus Christ, in whom the promise has been fulfilled. Therefore, the author’s emphasis falls on the continuity of the covenant promise (God’s promise does not change across time), not so much on the example these saints set for us–some of whom, as we will see, were not very saintly.
As we have spent time in this chapter, I have divided it into sections based upon the biblical time period in which those mentioned lived. In verses 1-3, the author defined faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” before mentioning three men who lived before the great flood (Abel, Enoch, and Noah, in verses 4-7). Next, in verses 8-16, the author takes up a discussion of Abraham and his belief that the land of promise (Canaan) pointed beyond itself “to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” When seen through the eyes of faith, earthly prosperity and blessing points ahead to eternal and spiritual realities. In verses 17-22, the author moves from the account of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, to Joseph–this is the era of the patriarchs. In verses 23-28, the author turns to Moses and the Passover–Israel’s time of slavery in Egypt and bondage under Pharaoh. Then, as we saw last time (in verses 29-31), the author takes up the discussion of Israel’s Exodus through the sea–without any mention of Israel’s journey into the wilderness–before taking up Israel’s entrance into Canaan (the so-called Conquest) and the fall of the Canaanite city of Jericho.
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